Are political prisoners at Camp Bagong Diwa better off now, under a supposed democracy, than during Martial Law?
By ALAN JAZMINES*
CAMP BAGONG DIWA, Taguig — About 30 years ago, the Marcos martial law regime claimed to have supposedly “normalized” the country’s situation, which, according to Marcos, necessitated the imposition of martial law in September 1972. In actual fact, the Marcos martial law regime was then still persisting with its fascist dictatorship.
The Marcos fascist dictatorship kept prating then that “there are no longer political prisoners in the country.” However, human rights organizations had then documented the existence of some 750 political prisoners throughout the country.
About 75 of those 750 political prisoners were then confined at Camp Bagong Diwa. I was then among those 75.
Now, the Benigno S. Aquino III regime also keeps prating exactly the very same Marcos line that “there are no longer political prisoners in the country.” But, in actual fact, human rights organizations have been documenting the actual existence at present of about the same number (750) of political prisoners throughout the country.
One big difference now is that there are now some 450 of us political prisoners here in the same Camp Bagong Diwa, five times more than our number during the Marcos martial law regime.
Of these 450 political prisoners presently confined at Camp Bagong Diwa are some 30 related to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) – including five of us, NDFP peace consultants – who have been arrested, tortured, swamped with trumped-up criminalized charges, and who continue to be detained, heavily repressed, restricted and deprived. All these, despite standing agreements with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) for our protection from surveillance, arrest, torture, detention, trumped-up prosecution and other repressive acts that would deter our effective participation and work in the peace process.
There are also some 50 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officers and forces, who have long been detained here (many of them for about or even more than a decade already), also on the basis of trumped-up criminalized charges. This, despite a peace agreement (the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) already signed by the GPH and MILF about six months ago, and the recent submission of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law for legislative approval.
And also brought to Camp Bagong Diwa in November last year were about 260 additional Moro detainees arrested where the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-led stand-off in Zamboanga City took place in September last year. Many of them are, however, only innocent civilians, including a number of minors (below 18 years of age) and elderlies (past 70 years of age).
There are, furthermore, about 100 other Moro political prisoners – mostly innocent community folk arrested en masse in “all out war” operations launched against “terrorists” – to justify the collection of tens of millions of dollars of bounty claims from the U.S. Anti-Terrorist Aid.
And there are also a handful of U.S. rendition victims, who have been transferred from previous imprisonment in a foreign country (Malaysia), forcibly – drugged, blindfolded and straightjacketed – smuggled into the country by Philippine police intelligence forces under the direction of the U.S. FBI. They were assigned fake Filipino identities, swamped with “terrorism” charges filed against the fake identities assigned to them, and have been kept in Philippine imprisonment – Guantanamo style – for about a decade now.
The swamping of numerous trumped-up charges, given the very, very slow crawl of justice in the country’s courts, have been resulting in the intended practically indefinite detention of these political prisoners here in Camp Bagong Diwa and elsewhere in the country.
The fact that all political prisoners brought here to Camp Bagong Diwa are considered “high risk”, and thus specifically confined to “special intensive care” or “maximum security” jails here under extremely heavy restrictions, has made our quest for justice and freedom, and our very situation under detention all the more difficult.
There are furthermore the related difficulties, and many times the failures, in bringing us to courts in our far-away localities, resulting in the further slowing down of our court cases; the problems even in the visits of our relatives and supporters from our far-away localities; and the excessively tight restrictions imposed upon us and our movements within our very cramp jails.
There are also the very, very stingy and very, very poor food rations that, in reality, amounts, at the most, to only 20% of our measly P50/day nominal food budget – the lowest, compared to that of jails in all cities in Metro Manila and other cities in the country.
And there are the fascist attacks time and again ordered by the top national
leadership of the jail management, and viciously implemented by their “greyhound” (search) operatives. The ultimate in absurdities take place during these “greyhound” operations. Confiscations, soiling and wastage of our food, medicines, beddings, clothes and other personal belongings, and even outright thieveries take place right and left. They justify all these by insisting that what they have been confiscating are all “contrabands”. Such include transistor radios, pens, paper clips, blunt scissors, artwork and handicraft materials and products, sewing needles, shaving razors, small shaving mirrors, toothbrushes with long handles, nail cutters, belts, rice cookers, cooking stoves, lighters, branded vitamins, and even money. Practically all these have been essential necessities for our humane existence and daily needs as inmates.
What makes their confiscations and their justification of the confiscations all the more absurd is that most of those items confiscated were brought in with the official permission of the local jail authorities, or else were bought from the local jail personnel’s cooperative store.
We, NDFP peace consultants and political prisoners, led in making complaints against the absurd and cruel confiscations and many other human rights violations committed by the “greyhound” operatives of the national jail authorities. In reprisal, the latter ordered the confiscation of the typewriter that we used to type our complaints. The national director of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) all the more absurdly tried to justify the confiscation of the typewriter, claiming that typewriters are also considered as “contrabands”.
In very stark contrast, in the more than seven years I was detained here at Camp Bagong Diwa during the Marcos martial law regime, there were no issues at all here about the categorization of any of the belongings of political prisoners as “contrabands”. We were, without any question and controversy, allowed radios, typewriters, all writing/artwork/handicraft equipment and materials, all cooking equipment and tools, all tools and materials for personal hygiene, and many other things that national jail authorities and their “greyhound” operatives now one-track-mindedly, absurdly and in fascist mindset and manner keep categorizing and confiscating as “contrabands”.
Very ironically, during the period of actual fascist dictatorship, as political prisoners here at Camp Bagong Diwa, we then actually never went through such absurd and fascist “greyhound” operations and confiscations that the present national jail management and forces have now been committing against us and keep justifying, contrary to our political and human rights, and contrary even to ordinary sensibility.
To make us feel “at home” as “guests of the state”, the buildings we were confined in here during the Marcos martial law regime had no cells and iron bars, but only individual rooms made of wood that were locked from inside. The main gate of the buildings we were confined in would, however, be locked from the outside at night.
We were then also given more “freedom” within our jail area. We were allowed whole daytime access to wide grounds, where on our own we could have sunning, engage in sports, exercise, and other activities, and also tend to vegetable gardens and raise poultry within a wide-open five-hectare space around our jail buildings. Very much unlike now, when we are not at all given access to grounds outside our very cramp jail buildings, and are instead confined most of the time to a tight, narrow two-by-forty meters corridor of one wing of one floor of the jail buildings, where there are a series of control gates that are padlocked practically the whole day. Only occasionally, at present, are we allowed access to the rooftop for sunning and exercise, and for only a very limited time.
We were allocated entire floors of buildings for kitchen activities, mess halls, television rooms, a library (with a free daily supply of fresh newspapers), and a couple of production areas (with machines and tools, like cutters and hammers, to make handicrafts and art work, and even shoe repairs, and the like). Given the mentality of today’s jail authorities, practically all of these would not be allowed.
We used to run our own cooperative store, where goods are sold without any markup at all. Unlike now, where the local jail personnel own and run their exclusive cooperative store, and charge us at more than double the market prices of goods.
So that we could ourselves determine what to make for our meals and control our own food budget and purchases, we were then given, in cash, a daily food budget of P12 per detainee, the present equivalent of which is more than P250 – more than five times our present already very stingy nominal daily food budget of P50, or more than 25 times the real worth of our present even more stingy actual daily food ration.
No different at all from the others, the present post-martial law government has only been putting on a democratic facade, but, in reality, continues to hold a big number of political prisoners – despite its repeated denials – and treats us all with persistent fascist mindsets, policies and rules, that, in terms of our experiences as political prisoners here at Camp Bagong Diwa, have ironically been even worse than during the “normalization” period of the Marcos martial law regime.
All these only reflect how fascism still rules in essence in the county beneath the fascist veil of pseudo-democratic regimes that have taken over after the fall of the Marcos fascist regime. All these only reveal that true democracy and real freedom still need to be fought for all out, in the interest of the entire oppressed people in the country.
*Alan Jazmines, NDFP peace consultant, is a political prisoner confined at the Special Intensive Care Area 1 Jail, Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City